Tosca sat near the front door, paws and tail tucked under her body, rubbing her face against the black stone sculpture, first her left whiskers, then her right. Her eyes were squeezed shut, and her purr was loud. Drops of saliva spotted the seams of silver crystal that ran through the egg and the two bird heads. She paid no attention as the little boy came down the stairs and pushed open the kitchen door to talk to someone. Then she froze and stopped purring. Her eyes snapped open. She backed away from the front door, body flat on the floor. Her ears were pinned back, her tail whipping. A growl rose from her body. She hissed at the stone birds, jetted past the little boy, and launched up the stairs. Josh turned and gaped after her. Then he shrugged, stepping over the two-headed egg on his way out.
Regan sat on the front lawn in the shade of the oak tree, watching the ant hill. Ants were gross, creepy little things if they got on your clothes or came into the house, but out here in the green grass and red dirt, they made a lot of sense. They were busy, they did their job, and they didn't complain. She figured that it might be pretty boring to talk to an ant, but at least that ant would be happy with its life, being where it was supposed to be and doing what it was supposed to do.
She heard the front door open and close. She didn't look up until she felt someone standing nearby. Of course it would be Josh. Her little brother stood rubbing his hair, staring down at the ants, obviously ignoring her.
"I'd have made you stay in your room all day, Josh. What a brat." Regan turned back to the ant hill, shaking her head.
Josh glared at his sister. "I'm a brat? You're the brat, always yelling at me and bossing me round. Leave me alone, Regan." His voice broke. "Mom says it's all over now that I'm out of my room."
He turned and ran around the corner of the house.
Regan jumped up, started after him, and then slowed down. "I'm too old to chase babies. What a total embarrassment to have Josh as a brother," she thought. "What a whiny, chickeny, little baby."
She watched him run through the garden and stop to peek through the open door of the shed. After a moment, he slipped inside.
"Why do I have to waste my summer here, anyway?" She looked down at the path, pushing gravel around with the toe of her shoe. "Everyone in Berkeley is having a great time, and I'm stuck in Georgia with Josh." She kicked a pebble into the bushes. "Josh is boring. Georgia is boring. I'm boring. I wish Grandma was here. She always had cool stuff to do."
She looked up, thinking she smelled the perfume her grandmother always wore. All she saw was the quiet green yard, bordered with weeping willow trees and tall oaks and maples that marched down the property line to Grandpa's garden, where the shade gave way to sunlight. The colors of the vegetables and flowers looked like decorations against the green of the grass and leaves. Birds twittered in the afternoon. Regan could hear a woodpecker knocking away in someone else's yard, and when the cicadas paused in their steady rhythm, she heard the comforting hum of bees and flies. She followed the path along the side of the house, listening deeply, trying to keep her shoes from crunching. As she passed the hydrangea bushes at the edge of the garden, a hummingbird dropped out of the blossoms, darted over the path, and hovered in the air in front of her face. Regan stopped, trying not to breathe. The bird regarded her with tiny black eyes, acting as if it knew her. Time hung between them on a wave of sunlight. There was a rustling in the grass, and the hummingbird darted away.
"Tosca." Regan looked down at the old cat, who stood blinking up at her. "Tosca, you're such a cat."
Tosca flicked her tail and strolled away. Regan followed her into the garden, between the raised beds of corn and marigolds, and through the open door of the shed.
It was cool and pleasant inside. She breathed in the scents of wood shavings, potting soil, fertilizer, and machine oil, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the shadows between the sunlit patches of the door and windows. The walls were hung with rakes, shovels, trowels, clipping shears, lawn furniture, and a wheelbarrow. A rack of old croquet mallets leaned next to the door, the painted wood chipped from hundreds of games. Clay flower pots, open bags of soil, and packets of seeds rested on a bench along one wall. Her grandfather's work table took up the opposite wall, a long wooden structure that he'd built to meet every gardening or household repair situation. Josh perched on a tall stool, staring admiringly at the little jars of nails, screws, tacks, washers, and other mysterious metal things arranged in neat rows along the shelves and cubbyholes. Tosca sat nearly upright on another stool, bending her head down to clean her amber stomach. Regan watched her grandfather lean over the table, busy with two pieces of wood in a vise. He closed a bottle of glue and set it on one of the upper shelves.
"Ach." He breathed deeply. "Why do I even bother? For years your grandmother had asked me to fix this thing, and I never had the time. Always something to do in the garden, something to repair or replace, weeds to pick, bushes to prune. 'Nathan,' she'd say - Nathan, not Nate, and I'd know, something to fix - 'Nathan,' she'd say, 'you know that magazine rack I like so much, the one that you made for me when we lived in New York that fits so nicely near my desk? Couldn't you fix it? Just a little glue.' She was right." Nate seemed to speak more to himself than the children. "'Just a little glue.' Funny. Your grandmother was so good with rings and bracelets. She could have fixed this as well as I could. But no, we played this game, something I promised I'd do, something she wanted me to do for her. 'Just a little glue.' Hmh." Their grandfather sighed again. "Leah, for you. Look, it's fixed." He trailed his fingers across the wood. "Leah, I'm fixing it already."
Regan came up behind him and hugged him hard around the waist.
"Grandpa. It's okay."
Nate reached down and patted her head. "Thanks, Regeleh." He studied her hair and held up a strand. "Just like your mother at your age. Same hair."
Josh turned away from the jars to watch his grandfather and sister. "What about me, Grandpa? What about me? Do I look like Mom, too? Huh?"
"You, Josheleh? Now you." Nate smiled at the boy, searching for faces from the past. "You want to know who you look like? You look like me when I was a little boy."
"I do?" Josh's eyes widened. "You looked just like me, Grandpa?"
Regan squinted up at the old man, at his sunspots, wrinkles, large ears, and white hair. She didn't see Josh until she really looked into his eyes, gray-blue and filled with something that ran deeper than tiredness and sadness. Had Grandpa once been a bratty little boy, too? She remembered how her brother had looked when he was a baby, and how his face had changed year by year, freckles coming in, red hair sprouting and curling on his head. Years and years from now, he might be just like their grandfather.
"I can see it," she whispered. "You really did look like Josh." Maybe there was hope for the little brat after all.
"Sure I did. Just like Josh. In fact, look at this." Nate pointed up. "I even have a photo."
He reached up, grunting a little, and pulled an old picture frame from one of the upper shelves. A puff of dust followed it down into the sunbeam. Nate sat on a stool and held the photo on his lap for his grandchildren to see. They crowded against him.
"Josh, you're blocking my light."
"Tough. It's not your light, and it's a picture of me."
"Not you. Get real. It's Grandpa when he was a boy."
Nate chuckled and wiped off the glass with a clean rag. The photo was brown with age, but still clear. It showed a little boy who could actually have been Josh, looking serious in a sailor's suit. He wore his hair shorter than Josh's, and he sat on the knee of a man who looked like a grandfather. The man had a thick mustache and a thick fringe of hair around a bald head. Broad but not fat, he wore a white shirt, suspenders, and a rumpled black coat. He sat with a black hat balanced on his left knee and his right arm around young Nate. A big parrot perched on the man's left shoulder, staring straight out of the photo with bright, curious eyes.
"Who's that?" Josh pointed at the older man. "Is that your Grandpa?"
"Totally cool bird," added Regan. "Is it a parrot? Was it yours, Grandpa? You never told us you had a parrot."
"That's Enrique. He was Bernard's parrot." Nate paused. "Or maybe Bernard was Enrique's person. They both talked so much I was never really sure. But Bernard - did I ever tell you about Bernard? Seems like I should have." He frowned. "He always had magic about him. It seemed like a gift he wanted to give. I loved him, but I think sometimes he made my mother nervous."
"You never told us this." Regan shook her head. "Definitely not."
"So now I'm telling you."
"Okay! A story!" Josh grinned.
Regan sat down on the edge of Tosca's stool, trying not to disturb the cat. Tosca, who had been asleep, woke up with a little noise, saw a lap becoming available, and tried to climb into it. Regan laughed, scooping her up, sliding onto the stool, and placing the cat in her lap.
"Well, let me start at the start." Nate stared down at the photograph, idly working dust out of the corners of the frame with his rag. "Bernard Geetleman was a family friend since the dawn of time. At least it seemed that way to me when I was a boy. My mother and father were jewelers up in Brooklyn, just like your Grandma and I were jewelers down here. And during the First World War - this was also true during the Second one, now that I think of it - there were certain precious stones that people couldn't get their hands on. Maybe they were all being used for industry, or maybe the mines had been shut down, but jewelers in this country had a hard time finding them. These days the jewelers all deal with import companies to help them find stones, but back then there were more freelancers like Bernard. He would show up maybe two, three times a year, and his case was always full of topaz and ruby stones, sometimes emeralds and sapphires, usually of good size and quality. He liked my parents, so he'd always come to them first thing off the boat. He'd stay at our house, and those times were the best. I lived for those visits. Any boy or girl would have."
"Would I have liked him?" asked Josh.
"What wasn't to like?" Nate blew the remaining dust from the photo and propped it up against a can of bolts so that they could all see it. "You should have seen that mustache, Josheleh. Whenever he smiled or frowned, it always followed the corners of his mouth. You should have seen those eyes, the way they went along with his stories like pictures in a book." The old man shook his head, smiling into the distance. "My mother was amazed that he was always dressed in a clean white linen shirt even when he hadn't been to a laundry in weeks and the rest of his clothes were all shlumpy. Those suspenders in this photo? They were rainbow colored, and whenever he took off his jacket, they shone from across the room."
"Very Berkeley," nodded Regan. "Remember how everyone back home wears rainbow stuff, Grandpa?"
"Sure, I remember, Regeleh." Nate grinned at her. "But rainbow stuff eighty years ago? This was pretty odd." He gestured at the photo. "Everything about Bernard was odd. His shoes, for instance. You can't really see them here, but they were always dusty, and the dust smelled like clove and cinnamon, like fields of wheat and flowers, like he was still carrying around the soil from all the exotic places he went. Everything he said turned into a story about someone he knew, some adventure he'd had. I always thought he was talking to me, even when he was talking business with my father. I could just sit and listen for hours. In fact, I used to think that he was coming to see me, because he was always teaching me magic."
"Grandpa!" Josh sat up straight. "You know magic?"
"Yeah," said Regan slowly. Her fingers buzzed the way they did when she played long tones on her cello. She shivered, remembering afternoon sun blowing through lace curtains. "How come you never told us you know magic, Grandpa?" And what else didn't she know about him?
Nate laughed, putting his hands on their heads. "I haven't practiced it for years, although your mother used to get quite a kick out of it when she was little. We're talking a little stage magic, you know, parlor tricks, nothing too fancy."
"Like what?" Regan began to realize that this wasn't what she first thought.
"Oh, there were card tricks and sleight of hand, but sometimes I wonder if he wasn't using it to teach me something else." Nate paused and then shrugged. "He showed me how to make hankies disappear, how to pull pennies out of people's ears, to make flower pots talk, and a hundred ways to shuffle a deck of cards."
"Cool!" Regan grinned. Her grandfather was pretty amazing anyway.
"C'mon, Grandpa! Show us! Please!"
"Not now, not now. It's been a long time." Nate rubbed their heads and returned his hands to his lap. "Give your old grandfather time to warm up his stiff fingers, nu?" He looked solemnly at the children. "Besides, this didn't go over so well with my mother. In fact, some of it actually worried her. She said that if she ever caught me doing a shell game on the street corner, she'd pack me a lunch and put me on a boat back to Russia."
Josh put his chin on the table and stared into the old brown photo. "What about the bird?"
"Ah, Enrique. Quite a parrot he was." Nate smiled his faraway smile again. "Bernard had a way with all animals. They loved him dearly, even if they didn't know him. Every cat and dog in the neighborhood would be waiting outside our building when he stayed with us, and the milkman's horse tried to drag the milk wagon up onto the sidewalk if Bernard happened to be there. You can imagine how delighted the milkman was to see him! It was a good thing that the firemen were driving trucks by then, because I hate to think of what the old fire horses would have done. All of Brooklyn could have burned down when Bernard was visiting."
"Grandpa, the parrot." Regan tugged on his arm.
"Okay, okay, I was just getting to him." Nate lifted a hand and rested his finger on the glass just below the bird's staring face. "This parrot here was a big green, red, and yellow bird. Bernard had been traveling with him for years, and claimed that Enrique was probably older than he was."
"Do parrots live that long?" Josh's eyes were wide.
"After you met Enrique, you could believe almost anything. Enrique was amazing, and smart for a bird. He used to find things that were lost."
"What kinds of things?" Regan looked up at him.
"Well, little ones," Nate went on. "Every time I lost a jack or a marble, or my mother lost a ring or thimble, Enrique would tell us where it was. He talked, you know, like any good parrot."
"What did he say?" asked Josh.
"He'd say - " Nate paused, smiling, and then spoke in a cracked, screeching voice. "'Lost jack, lost jack. Enrique knows, Enrique knows.'"
The children laughed and Nate blushed slightly. "And then, well, then he'd go find the lost jack," he told them in his normal voice.
Josh's eyes widened again. "How did he know where to find it?"
"Well, that's the thing." His grandfather tried to look serious. "It was always something little that he could carry back to us in his beak, and after awhile we started to wonder if he hadn't hidden it in the first place and waited for us to notice it was missing. He was a very smart bird, you know."
"I wish all animals could talk." Regan bent down and rested her cheek on top of the cat's head. Cats probably carried magic around with them. "Can Tosca talk?"
"She almost does, sometimes," said Nate.
"Tell us more of the story, Grandpa." Josh pulled on the old man's sleeve. "What happened to Enrique?"
Nate's face fell. "Actually, I don't know." He shook his head slowly.
"Well, it was because Bernard went away."
"Why?" demanded Josh.
Nate sighed deeply. "He and my father had a falling out, which I didn't understand until much later. It seems as though he'd gotten somebody in another country so angry over a business deal that they came all the way to Brooklyn to find him. Bernard and I were out for a walk that day - actually, we were trying to find Enrique, who'd flown out the open window - so Bernard missed his visitors. We found the parrot after a few hours, and when we got back home, my father took Bernard aside for a talk, and my mother sent me to bed. The next day, Bernard and Enrique were gone. My parents would only tell me that he was late for an appointment somewhere else. Later on, when I asked why he wasn't coming back, my father told me that he couldn't afford to buy stones from Bernard any more. I was heartbroken." Nate fell silent.
Regan reached out and put her hand in the crook of his arm. Josh leaned over on his stool and slumped against his grandfather. Together the three of them looked at the old framed photo. Young Nate looked back at them with the wide-eyed expression Josh sometimes wore. The sunbeam from the door fell directly across the picture, lighting Bernard's smile as if he were about to deliver the punch line of the funniest joke in the world. Enrique stared boldly out of the past as if he still knew where every lost treasure was hidden.